GROUP FORMED TO CAPTURE ECONOMIC HERITAGE OF CITY AND STATE
Fort Smith, Arkansas – For over 150 years, hardwood trees fueled the economic development of the state and of Fort Smith in particular. With that recognition and with the endorsement of the History Department of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Museum of History, the Fort Smith Historical Society, city officials, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, a group of citizens formed a section 501(c) 3 non- profit public benefit corporation in order to capture this rich statewide heritage. In view of the diverse and large scale wood processing industries that located in the Fort Smith region, the furniture manufacturing center of the state, it is fitting that the Association of the Hardwood Tree selected Fort Smith as the place to accomplish its mission.
Don H. Flanders, Chairman of the Board of Flanders Manufacturing Company, a major manufacturer of furniture in Fort Smith for many years and a member of the Executive Committee of the Association, announced a meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 22, at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, 8300 Wells Lake Road in Fort Smith, to finalize agreements for the contribution of land by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and a partnership with the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission that will enable the Association to accomplishment its objective of building a museum in a forest setting near the Nature Center.
With an eye on education and discovery, the Association will acquire, preserve, and exhibit the hardwood tree and objects produced there from that are of historical significance and relevant to sustaining and improving the quality of life for all Americans.
Being located near the western edge of the vast North American hardwood forest, on the border of Indian Territory, and on a navigable waterway contributed to the making of a Fort Smith wood manufacturing center that produced split rail fences, railroad ties, agricultural implements, wagons, carts, wheelbarrows, furniture, decorative trim, folding beds, steamboats, truck and automobile body parts, and, during World War II, gliders and wooden training rifles.
By the early 1900’s a single plant in the city was producing 18,000 wagons a year, including army wagons used in France during World War 1. Stylish furniture crafted in Fort Smith was exhibited at the Columbian World Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and this industry continued to grow until, following World War II, Fort Smith became the nation’s largest furniture production center west of the Mississippi River. Pioneers of this industry were instrumental in the creation of the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests.
Statewide woodworking establishments numbered over a thousand. Baseball bats were produced in Harrison, sewing machine cabinets in Truman, persimmon wood blocks for golf clubs in Forrest City, and in Pine Bluff, Ben Pearson became the world’s largest producer of bows and arrows. Typical of the small communities dependent on woodworking for their existence was Davidson, northwest of Van Buren. The entire community revolved around the James A. Hopkins family mill where thirty-five employees manufactured hardwood flooring and plow handles.
Over the last two years, the Association of the Hardwood Tree has worked (entirely with volunteers) to collect unique artifacts, documents and interviews, and to develop a computer database while partnering with the Nature Center site in labeling existing trees, planting young hardwood trees and other native flora, landscaping planning, and in sponsoring exhibitors. The Association invites the public to share our enthusiasm for the building of a museum and invites you to help in this endeavor.